Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Jokers & Dark Knights of the Soul

I lost the post I was working on, so by way of compensation, an old post from eight years ago which I found mildly innertaining, even if its takeaway, if it has one, is somewhat obscure. It will be edited as necessary.

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What is intelligibly diverse must be unified and whole, and only what is whole and unified can be intelligibly diverse. At the same time, only what is diversified can be intelligibly one. This is because change requires continuity if it is to be change of anything at all, and the parts of what is continuous must be distinguishable or else it congeals to a dimensionless point (or instant).... Although a whole is a single unity, it is at the same time a unified diversity. The reality of time, therefore, establishes concurrently the reality of a whole which is nontemporal. --Errol Harris

Atheistic types like to accuse religious folks of being naively uncritical about scripture, and no doubt many are. But the same can be said for radical secularists who adopt a naive and credulous stance toward the natural sciences, as if they require no metaphysical foundation and simply "speak for themselves."

But there is no meaningful scientific observation that isn't theory-laden, and as soon as one examines the implicit theories with which science is laden, one is led back into the realm of pure metaphysics. And once that happens, you soon discover that the naive religionists are not so naive after all.

As Errol Harris writes, "all the stock arguments against metaphysics, from Kant to Wittgenstein, have long been exposed as self-refuting, so that far from being impossible, metaphysics is indispensable and unavoidable, always inescapably presupposed in whatever philosophical position is adopted -- even one that repudiates it."

Now, metaphysics aims at the comprehension of the cosmos in its totality, both in its vertical and horizontal aspects. Any scientistic metaphysic which aims only at an explanation of the horizontal world eliminates in a stroke the very realm where metaphysical truth abides. This is the principial realm of which the horizontal is a prolongation -- which is why it is said, for example, that the Torah is prior to the world, or why Jesus could say that "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." Likewise, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God..."

Of metaphysical certitude, Schuon writes that it results from the "coincidence between truth and our being; a coincidence that no ratiocination could invalidate. Contingent things are proven by factors situated within their order of contingency, whereas things deriving from the Absolute become clear by their participation in the Absolute, hence by a 'superabundance of light'... which amounts to saying that they are proven by themselves. In other words, universal truths draw their evidence not from our contingent thought, but from our transpersonal being, which constitutes the substance of our spirit and guarantees the adequacy of intellection."

I suppose there is one way to avoid metaphysics, and that is to be genuinely psychotic, and to truly live in a world without a priori meaning, sense, and coherence. I am told that the Joker in the new Batman film is such a person. Of him, commenter Dusty writes that he is

"a perfect personification of transcendent evil. That is, the act of rejecting transcendence a priori at the same time downwardly transforms that person into an inverted reflection of the saving grace from above. True transcendent evil is a faceless force until given a temporary one by an earthly personality.

"Notice that the joker in Dark Knight is in truth a faceless terror all throughout. He really has no personal history: no name; his clothes are self-made; the past that he does reveal turns out to be contradiction and lies; and even the face that we do see is painted in the style of the Jungian archetype of the mad clown. There's nothing there but a trail of violence and disaster. Whence did he come? Where did he go?"

You see? A diversified chaos, with no wholeness or unity. You might say that the Joker is deconstruction incarnate, or the archetype of Tenured Man:

"He is chaos personified, and the only connection that he does have with grace is a masochistic-like dependency on the archetypal hero who opposes his will. Even the darkest of nights, night within night, evil for the sake of evil, must necessarily maintain contact with the light, or else there would exist an absolute hell, which is strictly impossible unless God chose to suffer it himself. But if God is Good, he would choose eternal delight, and not an eternal dark night."

That comment is loaded with insights that need to be unpacked. For example, notice how our scientistic troll [we were being pestered by an irritating troll at the time] is indeed dependent upon us, not vice versa. We do not seek him out, and do our best to ignore his irrelevance. But he "must necessarily maintain contact with the light," hence his desire to associate with us rather than with his own kind, which would indeed be a kind of cold and dry hell. Just imagine those scintillating conversations between blind atheists sharing stories of what they cannot see!

Let's discuss the idea of "a perfect personification of transcendent evil." Now, evil cannot actually be transcendent. Rather, it can only mimic and mock transcendence by escaping the obligations of our humanness from below.

This is one of the things that creeped me out about the opening ceremony of the Peking Olympics a few nights ago. I only caught the first 20 minutes or so before turning if off. Yes, I could see that there was a kind of bombastic majesty taking place, but toward what end? Toward man as ant, or the elimination of man as such. It was like a leftist mass, I suppose.

2000 drummers playing in lockstep? Give me one immortal jazz drummer playing around with the beat, adding his own flavor, throwing in his own unpredictable syncopations, being an individual. For that is what America is all about: not the ant as ant, nor the ant in opposition to the hive, but rising above -- i.e., transcending -- it.

Man can "get around" the ego from above or from below. In the case of a great jazz musician, while he "stands out," it can never be in a selfish way, or it won't be jazz anymore. Rather, the whole point is that in real jazz, each of the parts is subordinate to an emergent, higher unity that is being spontaneously created in the moment, in an organismic manner.

I don't think it's any coincidence that jazz was invented in America, as it is our quintessential art form, combining as it does a maximum of freedom (which is to say, individuality) and discipline, for it obviously requires much more discipline to be a great jazz musician than it does to be in a glorified marching band. Likewise, anyone with a mediocre intellect can understand science. But not everyone can understand Aquinas or Schuon or so many other true theologians.

Now, the cosmos is ordered (as we all know, cosmos is from the Greek word for order). Everywhere we look, order. There is incredible mathematical order in the equations of physics, in chemistry, in the genome, everywhere. There is also order in the human psyche and in the human spirit, two distinct categories that people have tended to conflate over the past 300 years or so. But the psyche is more or less the area addressed by psychology, while the spirit is the domain of religion (although there is admittedly much overlap, as there must be, just as there is overlap between physics and chemistry, or chemistry and biology).

Toward the end of the 19th century, when reductionistic materialism was at its zenith, there was an attempt to reduce the psyche to a purely material or "energic" phenomenon (and to eliminate the spirit altogether). One sees this in the theories of Freud, which absurdly reduce the mind to a kind of pressure cooker seeking to let off the steam of primitive instincts and impulses; or in the behaviorists, who imagined that there was no such thing as a psyche, only behavior.

In fact, there are people who still believe this. I remember during my internship, getting into a heated debate with a fellow intern who was a behaviorist. At the time, I didn't yet realize that the discussion would be as pointless as trying to bring light to our scientistic troll. After all, how does one impart truth to someone who believes only in behavior? I suppose by physically striking him on the head with a book.

Anyway, this is an example of a man who voluntarily cashed in his humanness for a kind of faux liberation, in which nothing means anything. Thus, he succeeded in escaping the pain of the human state from below.

Isn't this what the Joker would say? He's just a behaviorist with the courage of his absence of convictions. He's just a mindless man thinking. Or, in behaviorist terms, just a dead man walking, a living death.

Existence is unavoidably tied up with language -- with the Word -- because to have existence is synonymous with having a definition, even if we cannot put it into purely logical words. For example, Just Thomism writes that

"The idea of soul arises when we notice that some bodies are alive and others are not. Our judgment of what is alive and what is not is far from infallible, but it remains that among the physical things we know, some are alive and others are not. Words like 'soul' were first imposed from primitive theories of what made a living thing alive: early words for soul simply meant 'breath'; although it is unclear if they thought that breath was really soul or if it was more the clearest sign of whatever soul was. Theories about the soul quickly became more precise. The Greeks had a vast multitude of opinions about what makes something living -- the best of which was that the soul was some kind of organization in a body which involved the mixture of various elements in the right proportion."

Thus, for someone who is alienated from his own soul, it will simply be a kind of nonsense word that corresponds to nothing real, like "unicorn." This is one of the crude arguments that bonehead atheists commonly make, all the while imagining themselves to be sophisticated, courageous, or clear thinking. But the joke is on them, for

"Our modern scientists who deny the spiritual existence of the soul because they can account for human life without it are no different than a bookbinder who denies the existence of writing style or syntax because he can account for the whole book without mentioning them at all. In a sense he is right. He can completely account for the book without once invoking syntax or grammar. For that matter, the marketer, bookseller, and distributor needn't speak of syntax and grammar in order to give their own complete account of a book. Their way of analyzing a book into its relevant parts doesn't need to include this" (Just Thomism).

So our troll is correct, in that he does adequately convey the universal truths of the undead.

3 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

This is one of the things that creeped me out about the opening ceremony of the Peking Olympics a few nights ago.

Speaking of creepy opening ceremonies, Switzerland just celebrated the opening of the world's longest tunnel. I chose the BBC article because it is so amusingly dry. Google "Gotthard tunnel ceremony," though, and interpretations abound.

6/08/2016 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Good blast from the past there, Bob. That was before I started reading OC so this was new to me. If I had read it then I would have understood very little.

Just a roundabout way of saying thanks!

6/08/2016 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"...He can completely account for the book without once invoking syntax or grammar. For that matter, the marketer, bookseller, and distributor needn't speak of syntax and grammar in order to give their own complete account of a book. Their way of analyzing a book into its relevant parts doesn't need to include this" (Just Thomism)."

'Why so serious?!' meets 'Why ask why?'

6/10/2016 09:40:00 AM  

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